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There is something about the sound of vinyl that no other music system can compare to, which may be why vinyl records have been making a comeback in the last few years. Of course, if you want to buy vinyl, you need a decent turntable to play them on. Though many turntables cost well into the thousands, you don’t need to pay a fortune to get your hands on a great model. In fact, you can find the best turntable under $300 if you know what you’re looking for.
Of course, not every turntable is identical. If you’re going to get one, there are a few features to check out first. One is the type of turntable, a direct drive or a belt drive. The rotating speed is also essential, so you get the best performance and sound. Bluetooth or USB compatibility and built-in speakers are also great features to look for. We ended up creating a list of 5 best products, where the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB just tops them all.
More features: Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity software
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is a great model for beginners, thanks to its easy setup and great features. But this sleek, modern-looking machine is also a favorite of those who really love their vinyl. It is a direct-drive system, which uses a high-torque motor to give you a fast start-up every time.
There are three speeds so that you can play any record you can get your hands on, even the earliest vinyl produced.
For those who want more modern conveniences, this model is also USB compatible. It includes a USB cable, so you can plug it into any PC or Mac. It also comes with the Audacity software to make digital conversion even easier.
Another handy feature is the forward and reverse play capability, which is a must for anyone using this turntable as a part of their DJ equipment. The platter is made of cast aluminum, so it is durable, yet won’t scratch your precious vinyl. Additionally, there is a slip mat included, just for some extra protection.
The tonearm is S-shaped for exceptional balance, plus includes a hydraulically damped lift control. There is also a lockable rest, so it won’t move unless you want it to. The Dual Magnet phono cartridge includes a diamond-tipped stylus which works well for beginners, but can also be upgraded if needed. And when you’re done listening, put on the hinged dust cover to keep all the components clean and shining
More features: aluminum S-Type tonearm; walnut finished cabinet
The Fluance RT81 is built for style and performance. The cabinet is made of solid MDF wood with a high-gloss walnut or black finish that looks great in any setting. But the cabinet isn’t the only piece that uses quality materials.
The platter is aluminum and comes with a rubber slip mat to reduce vibrations for maximum vinyl protection and fewer skips. The AT95E Audio-Technica cartridge increases the clarity. It has a diamond elliptical tipped stylus which has been designed for precision tracking in the grooves. This reduces any distortion for a crisper, cleaner sound.
The tonearm is perfectly balanced, plus has an adjustable counterweight so you can set it however you need it. It includes an innovative anti-skate system combined with bearings inside the arm to create a fluid movement. Together, these help keep the stylus positioned deep inside the grooves, bringing out the music without scratching the surface.
The pre-amplifier is made by Texas Instruments. Such a high-quality piece will definitely ensure the best signal quality possible. There is also a ground terminal and some gold-plated RCA line outputs, which not only look fantastic, but also create the warm sound vinyl is known for.
This belt-driven turntable has both 33-1/3 and 45 RPM speeds, though the adjustment is on the bottom of the machine. This means you have to unplug it and flip it over to do your adjustments. But it also has a handy auto-stop function and a dust cover to help keep everything clean.
More features: fully-automatic operation; dual-layered chassis with 4 mm-thick metal plate
If your turntable doesn’t offer excellent sound quality, you aren’t going to enjoy listening to your favorite bands on vinyl. That’s why the Pioneer PL-30-K Audiophile Stereo Turntable is a favorite for both beginners and vinyl experts, thanks to the crisp, clear sound it offers.
Though some assembly is required when you first pull it out of the box, it is easy to put together, even if it’s your first time ever touching a turntable. And it is built to last. There is a dual-layered chassis that includes a 4-mm thick metal plate, plus it has a low center of gravity to increase the stability of the turntable while reducing any feedback.
The platter, tonearm, and headshell are all die-cast aluminum, so they can handle almost anything while giving you a great performance. There is also a 5-mm thick rubber mat you can lay over the platter to reduce vibrations and give your record some extra protection and grip. The MM cartridge is high-quality, though the stylus may need to be changed for the best sound possible.
The Pioneer PL-30-K is fully automatic, so you don’t have to lift the tonearm on and off. Just push the button and the tonearm moves itself every time. Other handy features include the anti-skate dial, a detachable power cord, a built-in phono equalizer, and speed adjustments. The dust cover has removable hinges, so you can take it off if needed, then put it back on to keep all the turntable components clean and in perfect working condition.
Why are we impressed?
Quick and easy setup
Great sound quality
What negatives must you be aware of?
Tone arm may need weight added to prevent skipping
Arm rest is too close to turntable for some larger albums
More features: has a built-in CD Player, Cassette Player, USB Player, AM/FM Radio, a 3.5mm aux-in for music from any Non-Bluetooth device (included cable) and a headphone jack
For some people, $300 is still a lot of money to spend on a turntable, so they need one that can fit into their budget. The Victrola Nostalgic Aviator Wood 8-in-1 turntable may be the answer for those who need to pinch pennies. It has a great low price that almost anyone can afford, without skimping on those features you love.
This turntable combines a vintage case with some more modern features. It has three speeds so you can use it for all of your old favorites as well as your new albums. But this is more than just a turntable, including a CD player and a cassette player, as well as an AM/FM radio with a nostalgic rotary tuner.
This old fashioned-looking turntable is also Bluetooth compatible, so you can stream your music wirelessly, even if you’re in another room. There is a USB slot that you can use to record your vinyl, CD’s, and cassettes directly onto a flash drive. Then you can transfer it all to your computer or take it with you anywhere. There is even a small flash drive included for added convenience.
Another bonus is the remote control, which is fully functional with all the features of the turntable, except power. It has no on/off button, so you’ll need to do this manually. There is no auto-stop either, so when your record ends, you’ll need to remove the tonearm every time.
More features: comes with two output adapter cables (dual RCA female to mini-plug male & dual RCA female to mini-plug female), 45 RPM adapter
This model from Audio-Technica is lightweight and simple-to-use, though it may not have all the features of the more expensive turntables out there. But what it does have makes it well worth trying out.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60WH-BT turntable is belt-driven, which helps to reduce any vibrations caused by the motor. This means better clarity and higher fidelity for a much clearer sound. This sleek machine is also fully automatic. At the touch of a button, the tonearm moves and puts the stylus on for you, then returns back to the rest when the music stops.
Speaking of the tonearm, it has an integral Dual Magnet Audio-Technica phono cartridge on the end. The diamond stylus works great, plus is replaceable if it gets damaged in any way. There is a die-cast aluminum platter to spin your records, which helps minimize vibrations as your record spins.
And that BT on the end of the name? This stands for Bluetooth, which is one of the best features this turntable has to offer. You can sync up to eight different Bluetooth devices to the turntable, including special speakers for vinyl as well as headphones, and the turntable will remember the profile for later use. Then, just push the Function button until you find the device you want, and you’re ready to go. And this helps reduce the number of cords and wires coming from your machine for a cleaner system.
Other handy features include the built-in pre-amplifier, the removable hinged dust cover, two output adapter cables, and the 45 RPM adapter which converts the speed from 33-1/3.
What are our favorite features?
Stores 8 different Bluetooth device profiles
Removable hinged dust cover
What could be better?
No 78 RPM speed
The cartridge is not replaceable
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve seen the best turntables under $300 we could find, you may be itching to get your hands on one. But there may still be a few people out there who are wondering why they should get a turntable at all, and just what all those features are for.
What is so special about owning a turntable?
The modern technology of today keeps our music at the touch of a button, or more accurately, a screen. So, why would you want to get a turntable? Maybe you’ve found a few records in the basement or had some handed down from an older relative. Though you may think they are out-of-date, vinyl is making a huge comeback these days. And when you play one for the first time, you’ll be amazed by the sound quality.
Though toting a turntable around isn’t even close to as easy as tucking an iPod into your pocket, you won’t regret purchasing one as you start using it. Before you know it, you’ll be scouting thrift shops and garage sales searching for that perfect album to listen to on your new turntable.
Features to consider before buying a turntable
Whether you’re a newbie to turntables or a veteran looking to upgrade, there are certain features you may want to look for in the best record player model. So, we’ve broken it down for you to make your next purchase a bit easier.
Type: direct-drive vs. belt-drive
You may have noticed that all the turntables we’ve reviewed are belt-drive models, with the exception of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB, which is a direct-drive turntable. So, what’s the difference between these two types?
For the direct-drive turntables, the rotating platter is attached to an electric motor, which is what spins it. The benefit of this type of setup is that it gives you a more accurate and constant rotation speed, plus it offers higher playback startup speeds. It also provides a higher torque, which reduces the vulnerability to vibrations from the outside. The downside is that the motor itself can cause these types of vibrations, affecting the sound quality of the record, though adding some shock absorbers can help reduce this issue.
Belt-drive turntables use an elastic belt attached to the motor to spin the platter, similar to the way a bike chain turns the back wheel as you spin the pedals. This system reduces vibrations the motor may cause and absorbs shock for a cleaner sound. But these types of turntables also have lower torque and reduced accuracy in the playback speed. And in some cases, the belt may wear down, but luckily, replacement belts are easy to get your hands on.
There are three main speed formats when it comes to vinyl records. These are 33-1/3, 45, and 78 RPM, which is short for revolutions-per-minute. The first commercially used vinyl was 78 RPM, which is what you’ll see on quite a few older records. But this speed is rarely used on records produced today, so you’ll mainly need the other two standards unless you have a box of old records stashed somewhere.
One of the reasons records don’t usually use the 78 RPM format anymore is because of the playback speed. The faster a record turns, the less information it could hold. So, those 78 RMP records could usually only play for a few minutes, or about the length of one song.
The 33-1/3 records were smaller, with a higher playback capability. These records were also a bit more durable then their thinner predecessors. The 45’s are the newest records in the vinyl era. These were smaller in size than the 78’s, plus were a bit more durable, though they had a similar playback and are mainly used for singles.
Bluetooth and USB availability
Though vinyl and turntables are a great addition to any sound system, you may want a few modern conveniences to be available. For instance, Bluetooth capability. This allows you to store your music on any device you choose, like a Smartphone, iPod, or tablet, then pair it up with the turntable to hear your whole playlist. Many turntables can also link to Bluetooth speakers, eliminating wires while still giving you great sound.
USB availability is another great feature on a vintage-looking turntable. This addition allows you to link your turntable to a Mac or PC and convert your favorite vinyl albums to digital files. Then you can add them to your favorite devices and take your music with you wherever you go.
Commonly called the needle, the stylus is a cone-shaped, diamond-tipped piece that rests on the record. As the record turns, the stylus moves up and down in the grooves, transmitting the vibrations through wires in the tonearm and onto coils in the cartridge. These vibrations are then converted into electric signals, which come out of your speakers as music.
The stylus is fitted into the bottom of the cartridge. It is removable, so you can change or upgrade it if needed. The stylus is also attached to the tonearm, which moves it back and forth over the record.
Pre-amplifier and built-in speakers
The majority of the products we’ve reviewed above include pre-amplifiers. But what is this feature? Well, a pre-amplifier is an amplifier that has been designed for the purpose of boosting the signals of the turntable. They are usually built right into the turntable, though sometimes they are sold as a stand-alone piece.
Built-in speakers are handy to have for a few reasons. The turntable comes completely put together right out of the box, so there are no extra parts or wires to deal with. This also makes them a bit more portable, just in case you need to take your turntable with you.
However, built-in speakers don’t always have the best sound quality. The smaller the speaker, the lower the sound needs to be to reduce any type of distortion.
Some other things to look for in a turntable is the design of the machine. Do you like a more vintage model or a sleek modern piece of equipment? Both are available with varying features to choose from.
You should also check out the warranty offered by the turntable manufacturer. No machine is perfect, so you may want to check out which parts are covered and for how long.
Some turntables come with slip mats, to help protect the record itself from the platter it is laying on. Fully automatic turntables move the tonearm so you don’t have to do it manually. An auto-stop function halts the record when it is finished, rather than letting it turn with the tonearm on it, which could lead to scratches.
Most turntables have both 33-1/3 and 45 RPM settings. But for the oldest albums out there, you’ll need 78 RPM as well. As long as you have the right speed, you can play any vinyl you can get your hands on.
The best model for a first-time buyer is the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB. It is easy to set up, plus has great features, like the built-in phono preamp, three speed settings, and the USB output. All of these features are easy to use as well, so it won’t take long for a newbie to feel like an expert.
Having the best turntable under $300 lets you play all the records in your collection without costing you a fortune. And the five we’ve reviewed here are all worthy models to choose from, depending on what it is you’re looking for.
Our top choice is the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB. This fantastic turntable has three speeds, a built-in preamp, and the forward and reverse play feature, which isn’t found on any other product we’ve reviewed. It also has the USB output with all the software you need for music conversion.
Next is the Fluance RT81. Though it’s a bit hard to adjust the speeds, its quality materials, like the aluminum platter, the rubber slip mat, the quality cartridge and stylus, and the anti-skate system, all make it well worth trying out.